Like most of the women I know, I struggled with body image for many years when I was growing up.
This struggle was definitely corroborated by the existence of spectacles like the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, which paraded stick-thin women around and called them "angels," making them out to be deities of sexual appeal. From the first time I watched it at age 11, the show helped me develop damaging concepts about beauty that would take years to unlearn.
So the recent cancellation of the Victoria's Secret fashion show is a very powerful step towards a redefinition of beauty, and it could help prevent thousands of girls from going through the utterly pointless and yet strangely devastating waste of time and energy that is hating your body. The show—with its skeletal, glitzy, glorified models always discussing their pre-show diets—was a gleeful parade of harmful constructs built on women's shame. The brand made its empire by equating beauty with thinness and exclusivity, by glorifying white and Eurocentric standards, and by focusing on making a profit at any and all costs.
The show may not be over for good. According to model Shanina Shaik, the show was only canceled this year so the managers could work on its branding. Still, the fact that the show needs a whole year to work on its brand reveals a stunning, company-wide lack of understanding. If Victoria's Secret had begun presenting even slightly more normal bodies, if it had begun prioritizing even the most inoffensive versions of physical flaws, then it might've been able to capitalize on the existing "social justice" fad that praises even the slightest deviation from the normative model.
Shanina ShaikImage via Arab News
Competing underwear brand Aerie was able to do this to great success. By ditching photoshop and displaying very ordinary women's bodies with a few stretch marks or visible bellies now and then, their revenue shot up by 20%. Still, further capitalizing on diversity and representation is obviously not an ideal solution, and personally, I'd love to see the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show shot straight back to the hell from which it came.
Iskra Lawrence via Redhook
The entire company was built on a rotting foundation. For two decades, convicted pervert Jeffrey Epstein was the brand's financial manager and was influential in shaping the company's operations. The store itself was built specifically as a place where men could feel comfortable shopping for women's lingerie, according to its founder, Roy Raymond. Recently, its chief marketing officer Ed Razek famously stated he wouldn't permit transgender women to walk the coveted runway, because "the show is a fantasy."
Well, it is a fantasy, Mr. Razek: It's a fantasy that the show could ever continue as it always has, glorifying unhealthy figures and promoting extremely outdated ideas about women. It is a fantasy, and this is reality—a reality where women wear bras to sweat and to work and to express themselves—not to fulfill an outdated image propagated by a lingerie company looking to make bank.
The cancellation isn't the first hard hit that Victoria's Secret has taken over the past few years. This summer, supermodel Karlie Kloss explained her decision to part ways from the brand. "The reason I decided to stop working with Victoria's Secret was I didn't feel it was an image that was truly reflective of who I am and the kind of message I want to send to young women around the world about what it means to be beautiful," she told British Vogue. There have also been accusations of cultural appropriation and underage models, Photoshop fails, and the like.
Karlie Kloss via Net-a-Porter
And who knows how many girls the show quietly wounded? Every year that the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show rolled around, I subconsciously tried to avoid the TV and the Internet, just as I now avoid fit tea-promoting Instagram influencers (raised on the VF Fashion Show, no doubt) like the plague.
Hopefully, someday soon, millions of young girls won't ever have to go through this in the first place. Obsessing over your weight is a waste of time and energy. It's deeply tied to capitalism and patriarchy—capitalism thrives off women's insecurity, which makes them buy products in order to look a certain way that in no way relates to health, happiness, or anything that has any meaning at all. Furthermore, patriarchy thrives off the subjugation of women, and what better way to subjugate half the human race then brainwash them into believing that unhealthy body standards are what determines their worth? What better way to silence a whole demographic than to convince them that their bodies' worth isn't based on how they move or feel or love, but rather how compliant they are with an arbitrary ideal of beauty?
Certainly health is important, and exercise is good because it clears your mind, but there is no reason any woman should ever try to look like a Victoria's Secret model unless that's her natural, healthy body. The Internet hasn't helped with this—Instagram and pornography have both perpetuated harmful beauty standards—but at the same time, people seem to be waking up to the fact that fatphobia is deeply rooted in profit models and archaic, sexist constructs. Victoria's Secret certainly did not create these constructs, but when shows like the VS Fashion Show are canceled, it shows that at least we're going somewhere.
Women should be allowed to wear the clothes they want, and there's definitely power in owning one's body and baring it all. And admittedly, there were some beautiful works of fashion design on that runway. Still, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show was never going to be a place where women could own their power. It was made for and by men. It was made to sell padded bras and to seed shame in women across the globe, and for a long time, it succeeded. So goodbye, Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, and good riddance.